The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L C Tyler

Herring SellerMeet Ethelred Hengist Tressider aka Peter Fielding, writer of the Sergeant Fairfax novel, aka J R Elliot, writer of historical mysteries set in the reign of Richard II, aka Amanda Collins, writer of romantic fiction. A man who is getting more and more tired of writing populist mysteries but seems not to have the talent to write anything deeper. Meet as well Elsie Thirkettle, his agent, who is more than a little worried for Ethelred – especially when his ex-wife turns up dead.

She is found strangled in a rented car not far from where Ethelred is currently living. He doesn’t have the inclination to investigate her death – but Elsie, who is a bit on the bored side, is determined that they look into it. She sees herself as the Herring Seller’s Apprentice – Ethelred being the Herring Seller as he sells red herrings for a living. But is this a straightforward case of murder or something far cleverer?

Why this book? It’s a break from the Golden Age reading & rambling of recent posts but it stems from the same source. L C Tyler is one of the speakers at the upcoming Bodies From The Library conference and it only seemed to polite to take at look at his work. This is the first of five books featuring Ethelred and Elsie – he’s also written an historical mystery set in Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector – and I’ll tell you this now. I haven’t read the other four books in this series but if it interests you, you really need to read this one first. I’m not saying why… just read this one first.

And you really should read this. It’s rather clever.

It splits the narration between Ethelred and Elsie, channelling both his frustration at his (lack of) ability to write his masterpiece and her concern that just possibly he isn’t telling her (or us) the whole truth. Both voices are distinctive and believable – although somebody should point out that the reign of Richard II has been written about in crime fiction by that Paul Doherty bloke – and you can’t help but be pulled into their tale. With an admirable set of suspects and an ingenious plot, this was a book that I read very quickly as I didn’t want to put it down. And it’s completely played fair – one early clue did leap out at me, but even then, I didn’t twig the importance to the grand scheme of things. There is something in the finale that seems awfully coincidental and unnecessary, but by then, it would have taken much more than that to spoil this charming well-plotted fair-play original mystery.

Given the titles, the later books are presumably Christie pastiches but this is something else. I’ll not say what for fear of spoilers, but needless to say, this is Highly Recommended and I look forward to the next book – and that historical one as well.

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26 comments

  1. I just started this one yesterday, laughing out loud, and loving it. Please tell L.C. Tyler he has a lot of fans in the U.S. I sure wish I could attend your conference on Golden Age mystery.

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  2. Thanks for the review! I’ve had this for a while, but it’s been languishing. As you mention, I assumed it was just a rather fluffy Christie pastiche, which I think I’ve had enough of for a while. Glad to hear it’s actually something with a fair bit of substance. I’ll dig it out of the pile!

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    • It’s very possible the next few – Ten Little Herrings, Herring On The Nile, Crooked Herring , etc – are Christie pastiches, but this one certainly isn’t. Hope you like it.

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    • That was confusing. Initially, I thought the first sentence was about the writer of the book. Eventually, I figured out that it must a character in the book. I’d never heard of any of these people, but then I’d never heard of L. C. Tyler before this review. I also wondered what the heck a “populist” mystery was; never heard that term before.

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      • To be honest, it’s about time I took another look at the author. After all, you could make a case that she is channeling the Golden Age more than anyone with the Hamish MacBeth series. After all, being a good book is not one of the qualifications of being from the Golden Age.

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  3. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this one. I thought it was a wonderfully funny mystery written in tribute to the Golden Age tradition (there’s that pesky concept again, 🙂 ). I’ve read the first three in the series and loved them all.

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  4. Very fun and very clever book! I’ve read the whole series up to HERRING ON THE NILE. There’s a new one called CROOKED HERRING that I have yet to purchase. My favorite of the lot so far is HERRING IN THE LIBRARY which is a homage to the locked room mysteries of the Golden Age.

    Len is one of the friendliest, most approachable writers I’ve ever met. We had a wonderful chat when he was at “Malice Domestic” several years ago. I suggest you get up the courage to introduce yourself to him and talk to him one on one.

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  5. “She is found strangled in a rented car…”
    I have just started reading the book and I find that she is actually not found in the car. Only her note is found in the car. She is found strangled somewhere else.

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  6. I have read the book.
    It is a witty, well-plotted and enjoyable book . Suspenseful as well as humorous. Also a satire on the classic mystery genre often poking fun at them.
    The early clue referred by you did leap out at me also and I suspected the trick.
    I found the portions in italics unnecessary and skipped them completely. (In fact, I followed the instructions to Edit, Select All and Delete these portions !). I also skipped Chapter 22.
    The story is kept open at the end to tempt readers to read the next book in the series.

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